Belgium Museum Will Tell Story of Red Star Line That Carried Jews to America

Chronicling the Ships that Brought Millions to Freedom

Precious Cargo: Ships carried people, petroleum and grain.
John S. Johnston/Library of Congress
Precious Cargo: Ships carried people, petroleum and grain.

By Molly Arost Staub

Published June 04, 2013, issue of June 07, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

The story of Jewish immigration to America will soon be retold in Antwerp, Belgium.

A museum dedicated to the Red Star Line, the shipping operation that carried more than 2 million people to the United States from 1873 to 1934 — many of them Jews — will open in Antwerp in September.

Founded in Philadelphia in the 1870s, the Red Star Line was a joint operation founded by a local businessman along with two Belgian investors to transport petroleum, grain and people to and from Europe. The line had ports in Philadelphia, New York City, Antwerp, and in Liverpool and Southampton in the United Kingdom. While many first- and second-class passengers boarded the Red Star Line as tourists, the ships also accommodated hundreds of steerage passengers each — mostly Jews who were fleeing Eastern Europe.

Plans for the Red Star Line Museum began in 2005, when the city of Antwerp purchased three decaying buildings on the Antwerp harbor that originally served the ship line. At the time of the purchase, the buildings were owned by a private harbor company, which had slated them for redevelopment as apartments.

“Some people in the city started to realize that these are historical buildings, and we can’t just put apartments there,” said Ben Van Alboom, project manager of the Red Star Line Museum, who is promoting the museum in the United States.

The vice mayor of Antwerp, Philip Heylen, pushed the project forward; about 85 percent of the cost of the $25 million facility was covered by public funding.

In the museum, a timeline of human migration includes notes on 20 famous migrants and then the historical exhibition includes 20 personal stories of passengers who traveled on the Red Star Line. Composer Irving Berlin was a passenger and appears in the timeline; his family loaned his transposing piano (a rare kind of piano that automatically transposes music from one key to another) to the museum. Albert Einstein was another famous Red Star traveler; a letter he penned on Red Star Line stationery announcing his resignation from the Prussian Academy of Sciences is also on loan at the museum. He apparently wrote it aboard ship as he fled the Nazis.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Ari Folman's new movie 'The Congress' is a brilliant spectacle, an exhilarating visual extravaganza and a slapdash thought experiment. It's also unlike anything Forward critic Ezra Glinter has ever seen. http://jd.fo/d4unE
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.